Locals recall push for Scapegoat Wilderness 40 years ago

Earlier this summer, Cecil Garland was treated to a flight over the Scapegoat Wilderness.

"Much to my own disappointment I became kind of a weeping old man," said Garland, 86. "I hadn't witnessed that kind of emotion, maybe in a lifetime."

Garland has a unique connection to the Scapegoat Wilderness. He was the driving force behind creating that wilderness area, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this summer.

Garland moved to Lincoln in 1951 to open a general merchandise store, and soon after, began to hear about an area of nearby land then called the Lincoln Back Country. Being the "outdoors type," Garland eagerly explored the area.

"The more I found out about it, the more I liked it," he said.

One night on a camping trip, Garland got out an elk bugle and heard animals calling back from every direction.

"All through the frosty fall air the calls echoed back and forth, and I knew that I had found wilderness," Garland said in 1968 during a congressional hearing on the wilderness' designation. "I would not sleep that night, for I was trying to convince myself that this was really so; that there really was wild country like this left and that somehow I had found it. But all was not at peace in my heart for I knew that someday, for some unknown reason, man would try to destroy this country ... That night I made a vow, that whatever the cost, for whatever the reason, I would do all that I could do to keep this country as wild as I had found it."
Garland kept that vow.

Forty years ago, after a long battle, Congress voted to designate the Lincoln Back Country as wilderness, creating the Scapegoat Wilderness and granting the area enduring protection.

That designation was significant because it was the first time a group of citizens successfully proposed and created a wilderness area, said John Gatchell, conservation director for the Montana Wilderness Association. Prior to that, the fostering of areas to become wilderness was controlled by the Forest Service and other land managers.

"It broke the mold," Gatchell said.

Around 1960, word started to spread in Lincoln that the Forest Service planned to build roads in the Lincoln Back Country in order to log the land.

"They were ready to road it up, and we had to do something to save it," Garland said in a recent interview.
The locals who knew the backcountry knew it didn't have timber in quantity or quality and also knew it was prime habitat for grizzlies, cutthroat trout and elk, he said.

"We formed a little group called the Lincoln Back Country Protective Association."

The group had about a dozen members who, after the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, worked to drum up community support and to lobby the congressional delegation to designate the area as wilderness.

"I took my slide projector, moved around and told as many people as I could about it," Garland said.

Eventually the group attracted the attention of then-Rep. Jim Battin. He sent his aide to Lincoln, and Garland and others showed him around the backcountry.

"He came out and said ... 'it shouldn't be disturbed; it should be left as it is,' " Garland said.

The group also gained the support of Montana's two senators at the time, Mike Mansfield and Lee Metcalf.

Mansfield ended up being a driving force in getting the bill passed, Garland said.

"Mike Mansfield was the power behind the whole thing," he said. "He was Senate majority leader.

Despite the delegation's support, the bill didn't sail through Congress.

"It was held up for eight years," Gatchell said.

Part of the reason for that hold up was because of trepidation about the precedent the bill would set by having a group of citizens go directly to their congressmen to request a wilderness designation.

"This wilderness area ... was created in a living room in Montana," said Smoke Elser, Missoula-based outfitter who at the time was working as a wrangler for Tom Edwards, another major supporter of the Scapegoat Wilderness. "This is a grassroots wilderness. This started in a living room over a cup of coffee."

Finally, in 1972 a bill passed, designating the Scapegoat Wilderness, located north of Lincoln and adjoining the 1 million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness on its south end.

Elser sees many parallels between the push to create the Scapegoat and the current effort with the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act.

The Heritage Act, sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus and currently making its way through Congress, would add 16,711 acres of the Rocky Mountain Front to Scapegoat Wilderness. The additions would include the headwaters of the Dearborn River, the Devil's Glen area along the Dearborn River, Falls Creek and other land.

Another bill, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, would add about 28,000 acres to the Scapegoat, including the headwaters of the North Fork Blackfoot River.

"Both of these bills were developed with a great deal of collaboration and dialogue at the local level before being introduced by their respective sponsors in the Montana congressional delegation," Gatchell said.

Like the original bill to create the Scapegoat Wilderness, the Heritage Act was developed in a living room, Elser said.

When pushing for the Lincoln Back Country to become wilderness, Garland left out some areas he would have liked to include.

"When I drew the boundary, I knew we were up against some tough opposition, that it had to be a conservative boundary," Garland said. "I left out some areas that I regretted I had to do so.

"If they can get those in today, then more power to them," he added.

Garland, who now lives in Utah, grew up in North Carolina, where most wilderness had been eaten up by roads.

"As a young man, I read about Daniel Boone and Lewis and Clark," he said, and he hoped there'd be some place left in the West like the landscapes in those stories. He found it when he moved to Montana.

"The Lincoln Back Country was still pretty much the way the good Lord made it."

The Scapegoat is a wonderful example of wilderness designation successfully protecting an area, Gatchell said.

"We see from the Scapegoat that wilderness works," he said. "It's every bit as wild and wonderful as it was then."

The Scapegoat Wilderness is also an example of democracy at work and of Montanans' commitment to their land, he said.

"Part the beauty of American democracy is that an ordinary person can go to their congressmen ... and leave a legacy," Gatchell said. "I think that the story of the Scapegoat says everything about our democracy and about Montanans and how committed they are to their wild places and original Montana."

The last time Garland was in the Scapegoat was in 1972. After it became wilderness, he took a three-week trip into the area. He knew that likely would be his last time there because he was moving to Utah.

Having the chance to see it one more time from the air this summer was quite an opportunity, Garland said.

"Being 86 years old, I think we all recognized that's probably the last chance I'll get to see it," he said. "But I didn't really need to get to see it, because imprinted in my mind is every facet, every bit of the Scapegoat."